PULLMAN — After a chaotic period of the offseason — featuring several additions and a string of departures — Washington State’s 2023-24 basketball roster is taking shape.
It’s been a busy stretch for coach Kyle Smith, whose team lost six players to the transfer portal over the past two months. But WSU addressed some of its needs with four new recruits.
The Cougars are close to completing their squad. They have one scholarship left to give out if Mouhamed Gueye stays in the NBA draft pool.
Update on Gueye
Gueye must make his decision by the end of the month. The All-Pac-12 player declared for the draft in early April and has spent the past month gauging NBA interest. Gueye is participating in the NBA draft combine this week in Chicago. He is the No. 47 draft prospect on ESPN’s mock board — a second-round projection.
Gueye said in March that he’s leaning toward beginning his pro career, especially if he receives a draft guarantee.
“His mind is on the NBA in some capacity,” Smith said last week. “I’m sure he’d be able to get a two-way contract, at least. But I’m not sure if that’s where his mind is, doing that. There are just a lot of variables. He’ll be getting a lot of information over the next few weeks, and that’ll really narrow down where he stands.”
Newcomers in the paint
Gueye’ potential departure opened the door for one of WSU’s top transfer additions — former Idaho player Isaac Jones, a post who averaged 19.4 points and 7.8 rebounds last season and earned All-Big Sky second-team honors.
Smith said it’s fair to assume that Jones will be an instant starter for WSU at power forward. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound grad transfer “has a chance to offset (the loss of) Mo’s production” in the frontcourt, Smith said.
In comparing Jones and Gueye, Smith said the Idaho transfer isn’t as athletic or strong on defense. But Jones is “pretty polished on the offensive side.” He’s a skilled scorer in the paint who can also facilitate.
Two other new faces will join Jones in the WSU frontcourt next season: high-school recruit Rueben Chinyelu and junior college All-American Oscar Cluff.
Chinyelu, a four-star recruit out of the NBA Academy Africa, signed with the program in November. The 6-10, 245-pound Nigeria native is WSU’s No. 5-ranked recruit since 2000, according to 247Sports.com.
Before he comes to WSU, Chinyelu will wrap up his season for Stade Malien, a pro club in the Basketball Africa League. He is averaging 5.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
“He’s young, but really, really talented,” Smith said.
The 6-10 Cluff averaged 18.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while shooting 64.7% from the field last season at Cochise College.
The Cougars’ frontcourt lost Adrame Diongue, Dishon Jackson and Jack Wilson to the transfer portal after the 2022-23 season.
Despite turnover, Cougars in good shape at guard
TJ Bamba led the Cougars with 15.8 points per game last year, but he bolted for Villanova in April and left WSU without its two best players.
“If Mo and Bamba came back, you could really put us up there,” Smith said. “If either one came back, I really thought we’d be an NCAA tournament team. We were gonna have a guy that’s a really experienced, NBA-quality player. Without both of them, it gets trickier.”
But a couple of weeks after Bamba’s departure, WSU landed Kansas transfer Joseph Yesufu for its backcourt.
The 6-foot combo guard appeared in 69 games over the past two seasons for the Jayhawks. He made three starts last year and averaged only 4.1 points per game. He didn’t find consistent playing time on the talented roster. Smith sees Yesufu becoming a key player in Pullman.
“We’re definitely counting on him to replace TJ in a sense,” Smith said. “I don’t know if he’ll score quite as much, but he is looking for a bigger role offensively. He’s a really good athlete, a strong, explosive guy that can get paint touches, and he can make threes. He needed a bigger role. Like most guys, you’ll play better in a bigger role.”
Smith expects Yesufu to be the team’s quickest player on the perimeter, and its best on-ball defender.
“He’ll be able to pick up the ball, harass (ballhandlers) and use his strength,” Smith said.
WSU’s backcourt is bringing back a couple of experienced players and several reserves.
Justin Powell, the Cougars’ primary point guard last year, declared for the NBA draft in March, but Smith is confident that the senior will return to WSU.
Senior Jabe Mullins will return after appearing in 30 games and making eight starts last season. He led the Cougars in three-point percentage (43%).
Kymany Houinsou and Dylan Darling showed encouraging signs last season as true freshmen. The 6-6 Houinsou is a sharp passer who can drive to the basket. Darling has the potential to develop into a standout defender.
Smith has spoken highly of point guard Myles Rice over the past two years. The freshman was in line for a playing role last year, but he missed the season while battling Hodgkin lymphoma. Now cancer-free, Rice is eager to make his collegiate debut.
The Cougars will add a newcomer to the mix in three-star signee Isaiah Watts, a 6-3 combo guard out of West Seattle who was previously committed to Seton Hall.
At forward, a veteran and an intriguing recruit
Earlier this month, the Cougars lost forward DJ Rodman, who appeared in 111 games over the past four seasons and had his best season in 2022-23, averaging 9.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. But he took off to USC.
Not long before Rodman’s surprise exit, the Cougars gained a new forward in Sonoma (California) State transfer Jaylen Wells.
The 6-7 Wells scored 22.4 points per game last season — a top-10 mark in Division II — and averaged 8.7 rebounds en route to a D-II All-American third-team nod.
“He passes the eye test,” Smith said of Wells. “He’s good offensively and he’s a good rebounder.”
Wells is a well-rounded scorer, but to compete for playing time at the Pac-12 level, he will need to improve as a defender, and add “strength and lateral quickness,” Smith said.
Wells could end up starting, but the Cougars might opt to send out a more proven Pac-12 player at the wing position — Andrej Jakimovski, who has appeared in 85 games with 45 starts over the past three seasons. The 6-8 Jakimovski was a regular in the Cougars’ starting lineup last year, and he posted averages of 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
Smith said the Cougars will probably ask Houinsou to take some minutes at wing. WSU is still short-handed at the position — reserve forward/wing Carlos Rosario entered the transfer portal last month — so the team may target another forward or wing to fill its final scholarship slot.